Becoming a True Social Organization: What Phase are You?

Most companies look at Social Media only as a marketing concept. That makes sense, it touches quite a bit of the marketing function such as driving web traffic, engaging and educating prospects, building sales leads, etc.

Anyone who watches social media trends knows that it's moving deeper into the organizations, everywhere from HR to customer service to finance. Christina Warren at Mashable asks the question "Who owns social media?" (Full disclosure: I'm quoted in the piece) and it's a good question, but it's also a short-term question. She references the November 2009 study by Econsultancy that points out that the majority of social media programs today are owned by the PR and marketing team.

But it shouldn't stay that way. It can't. Because companies need to focus on becoming social organizations, not on producing "media."

At LaunchCamp David Beisel asked a panel of entrepreneurs about their marketing spend. Each said they hadn't spent a dime, but the marketers in the room bristled at the notion. "Of course they spent something," the argument went. "They spent their time and energy." But if you go a layer beyond that you realize that they are social organizations. That is, the media that they produce as part of who they are is their marketing, their marketing is in their social DNA.

This is where Todd and I are taking Fresh Ground. Yes, our background is PR and marketing, and like other social media programs we start there, but we see our role as helping companies transform into social organizations.

We see this as a process that has four distinct phases. Companies today fall at different points along this spectrum, but if you look hard you'll see your own group here.

  • Phase 1: Authoritarian -- As traditional as you get, this model is a top-down approach with a central voice that pushes out communications. Think of the traditional press-release driven PR and you get the idea. Some people put on a social-media dressing, like a Twitter account that only faces outward, or creating social media releases that still announce the same old stuff, but it's the attitude that defines the phase.
  • Phase 2: Inclusive -- This is where companies begin to truly walk down the social path. You see them start developing more journalistic-style content and interacting with the social world. In this phase you can start to hear the tone in their blogs posts. The Facebook pages start to interact and speak to the audience while the marketing department starts listening to the Twitter stream.
  • Phase 3: Collaborative -- Now things get interesting as they move out of marketing and into more customer-facing departments. No longer content to just listen, the marketing department, as well as customer service, HR, tech support, etc., begin answering queries. They are starting conversations and continuing them. Measurement gets put in place, but usually with a marketing-bent.
  • Phase 4: Social -- The company is now a hub of a community, with everyone taking part. Marketing has now turned its attention as much inward as outward, providing employees, customers, partners and investors with the tools and information they need to interact directly with the community. Companies are now able to take advantage of the army of employees at their disposal, but so are customers. Information that flows in from the community can be put to work helping create new products or offer new services.

How long does it take to move through the phases? Who initiates it? Can every company achieve it? How do you open the lines of communications internally? Those questions are left to be answered, as each organization is different.

Some of it lies in trust. I know small business owners who don't want their employees tweeting or otherwise engaging because the owners worry that they'll lose their best employees. Others feel that marketing must engage because it's "media," despite the fact that the front-line employees engage with customers every day, doesn't it make sense that they engage here? Why doesn't marketing train them and offer the tools they need?

No matter what, this isn't a fast-fix, it's a progression that takes time. Internet time may be quick, but true change happens slowly.

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2 comments to Becoming a True Social Organization: What Phase are You?

  • Great insight into helping visualize where companies stand on the social scale. Not sure any companies are at Social yet. Are there any examples you can think of where companies are at least demonstrating a strong commitment and execution towards being a more Social organization? I think it would be really interesting to see the results and understand the journey of how they got there.

  • It’s a great question Mark. Large companies are a long way from being social. Smaller companies are on the path, but those that are true social organizations tend to start that way. One of my favorite examples is the Daily Grommet, which engages in what they call “Citizen Commerce.” In that case the community is central to how the business operates. Open source companies, like Alfresco, tend to fall in this category as well.